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Scott Budget Proposal Aims To Put Education and Jobs First

Florida Governor Rick Scott has unveiled his proposal for the state’s budget in the coming fiscal year. He calls it the Florida Family First budget, but some worry it ignores the needs of average working class people.

Scott is proposing a $74.2 billion budget. His office said it’s the first time since fiscal year 2008/2009 that  that state hasn’t had a General Revenue budget gap to fill. And Scott said that means the state has a little cash to invest in its priorities.

“The target investments included in our Florida Families First budget are possible because we made the hard decisions to get our state’s economy on track two years ago,” Scott said.

Scott said two of his biggest priorities in this budget are education and jobs. And he said that’s why he calls it a Florida Families First budget.

This is going to be the state that families like mine growing up are going to know they have a shot. This will be the number one state for you to get a job and for you to get an education and we know they are completely connected,”  Scott said.

Scott's proposed budget includes 1.2 billion new dollars for Kindergarten through 12th grade education funding – $480 million of which would be used for teacher pay raises. Scott said it’s a good investment in the state’s future, but he is getting some backlash from other state employees who say they need higher pay too—not just the merit based bonuses outlined in Scott’s budget.  Just ask Matt Puckett with the Police Benevolent Association.

“We do appreciate the governor’s recognition that the officers do deserve some type of increase. Many of them have been six years without  any kind of increase to their salary. So, the gesture to give them some kind of bonus and reward them for their work is well taken and very appreciated, but we’d like to see an increase to their base salary. We think they’re more than deserving for that,” Puckett said.

But Scott’s budget is getting support from members of the business community. The state’s citrus and seafood industries will see a bump and Scott’s making a pitch to let manufacturing companies buy machinery and equipment without having to pay sales tax. It’s a move Jerry Pierce with the National Federation of Independent Businesses said will really help grow those jobs.

“When we look at less than 5-percent of our workforce now is in manufacturing, if we double it, we have about 307,500 people employed in manufacturing, if we double it, we have 300,000 more. It’s a huge number and we have the capability,” Pierce said.

Scott’s office said Florida is one of the only states left still requiring manufacturing companies to pay taxes on the purchase of their equipment.

Scott’s budget also allocates a chunk of money toward the environment. The total earmarked for agencies under the environmental heading like the Department of Environmental Protection or the Fish and Wildlife Commission is down by about $225-million from last year’s budget. But money for things like the Everglades Restoration fund is up, making Eric Eikenberg, with the Everglades Foundation pretty happy.

“We have a number of restoration projects that are under construction. These much needed state dollars will continue to allow for that construction to continue,” Eikenberg said.

Everglades Restoration is scheduled to get $30 million more  in funding than it did last year.

The governor’s budget also provides an increase for school safety, though funding for the state’s mental health program remains flat. And when it comes to the Federal Affordable Care Act, the governor’s budget would provide funding only for the mandatory portions of the law. It’s that last point that House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston said is one of the most concerning parts of Scott’s proposal.

“We’re not talking about turning down money for a rail system, we’re talking about saving lives. We have reputable studies that say if we implement this, over 826 lives per year will be saved,” Thurston said.

Scott said the state has made forward progress, improving the unemployment rate and growing jobs, but he said there’s lots of work left to do. He said he’s confident the items in his budget he’s listed as priorities will get serious consideration from legislative leaders as they discuss the budget in the coming session.

For more news updates, follow Regan McCarthy on twitter @Regan_McCarthy